Bowdoin’s partner policy changed six years ago to better accommodate the needs of married professors—and it has had a positive effect on the faculty. Students have probably reasoned that Yi Jin Gorske and Benjamin Gorske of the Chemistry Department are married, yet others, such as Government Professor Laura Henry and Biology Professor Vladimir Douhovnikoff, are less easily identified as a couple.
“Last semester we slowly over time realized that we had the same ten students, which is really an unusual thing, but a lot of fun,” said Henry. “A lot of times they didn’t even know we were married.”
Before dual-career couples have the opportunity to teach the same students, they have to confront what is known as the “two-body problem.” While applicable to other professions, this term is mainly used in academia to express the difficulty that spouses, partners and other couples encounter when searching for jobs at the same or neighboring institutions.
History and Environmental Studies Professor Matthew Klingle, who is married to History and Environmental Studies professor Connie Chiang, explained, “The two-body problem may be more pronounced in academia because of the very restrictive nature of the job market and the fact that often jobs are located in parts of the country that you may not anticipate living in.”
While navigating the two-body problem, many couples face the challenge of living separately, having extensive commutes or even sacrificing one partner’s career or putting it on hold.
“That is the alternative that a lot of people face,” said Professor Jeffrey Selinger from the Government Department, who is married to professor Vyjayanthi Ratnam Selinger of the Asian Studies Department. “They get academic jobs in very different places and they either don’t see each other or they can’t have children and it’s a miserable situation. Or one or the other gives up their academic career.”
Fortunately for Bowdoin professors, this is a problem the College has been openly and successfully working on since the 1990’s. In 2007, after extensive debate, discussion and research, Bowdoin implemented a new and innovative partner accommodation policies.
These new policies clarified what would be possible for partners at Bowdoin and the processes for evaluating their eligibility for academic jobs.
“I think the spousal hire policy is so important, for people who are here, but also in attracting people to come here,” said Government Professor Allen Springer, whose wife Anne Springer works in Admissions.
“This isn’t Boston and this isn’t New York where there are a lot of academic institutions nearby,” he added.
“When both of the partners meet our standards for excellence in teaching and research, and where they can both make contributions to the curriculum, it’s a great way to both recruit and retain,” said Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd, adding, “it also brings us the greater richness of what two people bring.”
For incoming dual-career academic couples, it is often the case that only one individual has applied for a full-time position. When the “trailing spouse or partner” can meet the criteria for Bowdoin’s partner accommodation policy, two individuals can split responsibilities.
A Bowdoin professor normally teaches four classes a year and performs committee duties. Under Bowdoin’s outline, the two people carry one-and-a-half positions instead of two. In this case, the professors each teach three classes over the whole year. There is also the option for one individual to teach a full load while the other teaches halftime. Such arrangements are negotiated between incoming faculty, the Office of Academic Affairs and faculty. As far as tenure-track positions are concerned, each individual professor is evaluated individually.
In addition to being able to live and work together, even if each individual may not be teaching a full-load, they both have access to all faculty resources, such as research funding, travel and vote in faculty meetings.
“Dual career couples get more than the benefit of one and a half positions, and we get more than the benefit of one and a half professors as well,” said Judd.
Other new policies and practices that the College embraced for a more “family friendly” career included child care at the Children’s Center, Domestic Partner Medical Benefits and an updated Parental Leave Policy.
Thanks to these new policies, Bowdoin College was awarded the “Alfred P. Sloan Award for Faculty Career Flexibility” in 2009. This award goes to baccalaureate colleges who demonstrate groundbreaking efforts and policies that recruit and retain faculty. Middlebury, Mount Holyoke and Oberlin Colleges were also awarded the $200,000 prize.
Many faculty couples express gratitude and satisfaction with Bowdoin’s policies and support systems for professional couples on campus.
Vyjayanthi Selinger said, “Bowdoin is a very accommodating place and they have gone to great lengths to make it easier for faculty and spouses to continue their academic careers in the same spot.”
Henry said, “We’re grateful that Bowdoin has policies that support the faculty not only in professional ways but in personal ways, from having the Children’s Center to the Partner Accommodation.”
For couples teaching in the same department, their paths will cross more frequently in department meetings and switching between classrooms.
“All of our colleagues have been extremely supportive of us and all have great senses of humor,” said Chiang.
And while those in different departments do not see as much of each other on a daily basis, such an arrangement bears its own advantages.
“She [Anne Springer] helps admit students that I later have [in my classes] and we get to know a lot about what’s going on. The fact that we approach Bowdoin from slightly different directions is very useful,” said Professor Springer. “And we are still likely to run into each other in Smith Union by chance.”
Couples with children frequent the steps in front of the art museum, eat at Sundae Sundays in Thorne and attend sports summer camps run by Peter Slovenski, head coach of track and cross country.
When the kids are not around or a Bowdoin student is babysitting, many eat lunch together at Jack Magee’s Pub & Grill or any number of restaurants on Maine Street. Concerts, sporting events and Reunion Weekend are also favorite pastimes for many Bowdoin faculty families.
“I’m really happy to be part of an institution that has the insight of the value these policies bring to a campus,” said Douhovnikoff. “We all gain so much by bringing a whole family [on to] campus.”